US & World

Israel's election: Netanyahu declares victory in tight race

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Likud party supporters react to exit poll results at the party's election headquarters In Tel Aviv.Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Though exit polls showed a tight race, the results indicated that Netanyahu will have an easier time cobbling together a majority coalition, and the prime minister quickly tweeted out a statement declaring victory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Likud party supporters react to exit poll results at the party's election headquarters In Tel Aviv.Tuesday, March 17, 2015. Though exit polls showed a tight race, the results indicated that Netanyahu will have an easier time cobbling together a majority coalition, and the prime minister quickly tweeted out a statement declaring victory.
Oded Balilty/AP

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2:06 p.m.: Israel's Netanyahu declares victory in tight race

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared victory after a tight national election appeared to give him the upper hand in forming the country's next coalition government.

In a statement released on Twitter, Netanyahu says that "against all odds" his Likud party and the nationalist camp secured a "great victory."

Initial exit polls showed Netanyahu's Likud Party deadlocked with the center-left Zionist Union.

But the results indicated that Netanyahu will have an easier time cobbling together a majority coalition with hard-line and religious allies.

Netanyahu said he had already begun to call potential partners.

— Josef Federman/Associated Press

1:20 p.m.: With polls closed, race too close to call

Voting in Israel's national election has ended, with exit polls showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a virtual tie with a center-left challenger.

Exit polls conducted by the country's three major TV stations late Tuesday gave mixed results, showing an extremely tight race between Netanyahu's Likud Party and opposition leader Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union.

Two polls showed the parties deadlocked with 27 seats each, and a third gave Likud a slight lead of 28-27.

All showed the centrist newcomer Moshe Kahlon with enough seats to determine who will be the next prime minister. Kahlon, a Likud breakaway, has not said which side he would favor.

— Daniel Estrin/Associated Press

8:16 a.m.: Netanyahu seeks 4th term as voters head to polls

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party face challenges from the left and right in today's Israeli elections — in which approaches to a potential Palestinian state and the economy have emerged as top issues.

"Netanyahu trailed in the final opinion polls [behind] the center-left Zionist Union ticket, which says it will focus on economic issues and trying to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians," NPR's Emily Harris reports from Jerusalem. "Hours before voting started, Netanyahu came out against a Palestinian state at this time — a position long held by his main rival on the right."

The voting began this morning and will continue until 10 p.m. local time; that's when the first exit poll results should come out — around 4 p.m. ET.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz is live-blogging today's vote; it reports that in the first three hours of polls being open, nearly 14 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots. It adds that the rate is "20 percent higher" than the previous two elections.

Netanyahu has been the focus of controversy over his recent speech to a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress, a trip that deepened tensions with the White House. The prime minister's opponents seized on the opportunity to say they would work to strengthen ties with America's leaders to ensure their country's security.

Emily tells Morning Edition that if his party doesn't win outright, Netanyahu could still remain in power.

"Even if his Likud party doesn't emerge with the most votes," she says, "he could be the one who could negotiate successfully among the 11 or 12 parties that are supposed to get in parliament, and build a coalition government out of that, with him at the helm."

Because election day is a holiday in Israel, many people are expected to get outdoors to take advantage of what the Haaretz newspaper says will be nice weather.

— Bill Chappell/NPR